Friday, April 29, 2011

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ as the Victory over Death : The Business of Christian Education XXXI

We live in a world that terrifies us with the imagination and reality of death overpowering life. Every day we hear the news of death, and such news overwhelms us. The portrayal of death in this world provides a vivid picture that death is much more powerful than life. In the event of the current disastrous earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, none of us can deny the reality of the power of death in our life. Realistically we ask, "Is there hope? Why can't life be more powerful than death? What is the point if all ends in death? Is it true that death is the final destiny of all the living?"

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to
the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.” John 20:1-10

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-8

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:12-20

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:50-58

John 20:1-10 describes the historical event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The fact of the empty tomb and the witness by Jesus' disciples, John and Peter, were recorded in that passage. Truthfully Jesus was resurrected on the third day after his death, exactly fulfilling what was spoken about him in the Scripture. This shows that the resurrection event was undeniable. The gossip and rumor that were deliberately spread by the chief priests, “While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day” (Matthew 28:11-15) was proven as it were, gossip and rumor, not fact, not the truth, a one big lie. The passage in John 20 clearly shows, and many other passages in the Scripture as well, that Jesus' disciples did not steal his body, but they themselves were surprised by the fact that Jesus was raised just like what he said.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 talks about the truthful witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul was sent as his apostle to speak of this truth and the evidence of his resurrection, he appeared to the people in his glorious body, which was witnessed by many different people in several different occasions and at one time by more than 500 people. Therefore the witness is credible and thus the truth of his resurrection is valid and sound. People believe in this truth and ready to die for this. 1 Corinthians 15:30-32, “And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”, showcases the drive of the heart of the believers, especially Paul, in their belief of the message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, so they dared to endanger their lives even to the point of death.

The discussion in 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 is the theological reasoning of the significance of Jesus' resurrection for our faith. Here Paul argued against some people who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. These kind of people were well known as the Sadducees. “That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living. When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching" (Matthew 22:23-33). So Paul was battling the belief that there is no resurrection. Jesus declared that the Sadducees' theology was mistaken. Paul argued using a philosophical reasoning, that if the dead are not resurrected, then Jesus was also not resurrected. Meaning, Jesus is still dead. If Jesus is dead and not resurrected, then all the witness for the faith in Christ as the savior is futile. Not only the witness is futile, but more than that the witness is a big lie. If such is the case, then we live without hope and meaning. Paul added that if we believe in that message, then we are to be pitied, so living as Christians is not only difficult but also extremely dangerous, especially in the time of the apostles. It is unreasonable for Christians to stake their life if the truth is Jesus was never resurrected and is still dead. There is not good reason whatsoever to continue to have faith in Jesus Christ if there is no resurrection. Precisely for this matter that Paul battled so seriously for the truth of the matter is Jesus was resurrected. That's why Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 that his message is of first importance, that Jesus died and was raised on the third day. Paul also argued here that Jesus is the firstfruits of those raised from among the dead. The Jewish theology understands the concept of firstfruits that all firstfruits belong to God signifies that all fruits belong to God. So, when Jesus is said to be the firstfruits, then it means that all believers will be raised like Jesus in absolute certainty because they all belong to God and God will not let anything jeopardizing his plan.

1 Corinthians 15:50-58 discusses the truth that through the resurrection of Jesus Christ death is defeated. John Owen in his book "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ" points out that the power of death has been nullified through the death of the Son of God on the cross. One thing must be made clear, that is that Jesus did not remain dead, but he was resurrected. His resurrection is the evidence that the power of death has been broken. Death has no mastery over Jesus Christ. “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’ God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ So it is also stated elsewhere: “‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’ “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay. “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses” (Acts 13:32-39). This means that the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot be separated. It's a one package occurring. The death of Jesus MUST be followed by his resurrection. And there is no resurrection without death. If he remains dead then the entire foundation of Christian faith is meaningless. If he did not die, then there is no evidence that death has been engulfed in his resurrecting power. The last enemy to be defeated is death (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death is the penalty of sin as was declared by God in Genesis 2:17. So ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin, human life is actually death. The power of death controls the life of man, so we don't actually live, we are already dead. Since the fall, all man are perishable. What is perishable cannot inherit the kingdom of God, for the kingdom of God is eternal. The perishable must be made imperishable before it can live in God's eternal kingdom. And the only way to transform the perishable into imperishable is through Jesus Christ. Therefore Jesus must die. So, in a little while Jesus experienced the power of death. Death was made real in Jesus Christ. Not only the physical death over his humanity on the cross, but more than that, the spiritual death when he shouted "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani!" The separation from the Father is the ultimate death, which in the theological sense is the cut off from the source of life. The reality of death is not non-existence, but the reality of death is when one is left alone by the source of all life. That's precisely what Jesus experienced on the cross that prompted him to cry out to the Father in the most agonizing manner. The good news is that Jesus did not remain separated from the Father, for the quality of the Son of God destroys death from top to bottom. The book of John is the one to consult in this matter. John 1:4 declares: "In him was life, and that life was the light of men." And in John 11:25, Jesus claimed: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies." Jesus proves that he is greater than death and that he is the source of life cannot be destroyed by death. The most dreadful enemy of man is now completely obliviated in Jesus Christ.

Clearly, it won't be easy to spot the spiritual death that Jesus experienced on the cross through the eyes of sinful man, but for sure anyone will catch the reality of the physical death that Jesus went through. Being risen from the physical death is the easy part. Don't you remember the event when Jesus raised Lazarus from death? But to be raised from the spiritual death is another matter. The Son of God must experience the eternal separation from the Father. This is a mystery. How does the separation actually take place in eternity? I don't know. This is what I know, if we are the one to be left alone by God we won't survive. We will completely die, and that is the full meaning of hell. The fact that Jesus lives on shows that he truly is the Son of God and the one and only that can save us. This also shows that in Jesus is life and the life that he has is not derivative but the life that he has is his own, so death can never overpower him. In other words, instead of the gruesome image of death overpowering life, just like what we witnessed every day in this temporal world, we witness life overpowers death. Jesus proves that fact by his resurrection. Our perishable life, that is the life that is condemned to death cannot continue to live in the kingdom of God. Therefore, our life, which is actually death in Adam, must be put to death. The only way to put death to death is through the death of Jesus Christ. If we die on our own, we will eternally perish. But when we die in Jesus Christ, who is the firstfruits of all who will be resurrected, we put death to death. Meaning the death in us is made powerless over our life in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, Jesus Christ, who is imperishable must bring us together in him, be united in him, and thus cover our perishable life with the imperishable. Once we are in Jesus Christ, death cannot overpower us anymore, and we are to receive the eternal kingdom of God.

Therefore, all who are in Christ no longer fear death. In Christ we will live even though we die. The fact that he defeated death, both the physical and the spiritual, is a guarantee that if we are in him we will live eternally with God. With that knowledge, Paul urged all of us to give ourselves "fully to the work of the Lord" because our labor in him is not in vain, since we will be raised in Jesus Christ with the same glorified body that Jesus had when he was raised from the dead. In Jesus Christ we have the victory over death. And with that understanding we now celebrate Easter. Soli Deo Gloria!

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